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Chamber Executive Article Archive

“Stars” Align for Joplin’s Public Arts

By Cary Beasley

Enhancing quality of life in our community is a vital part of our mission at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. To help us tackle our ambitious community enhancement goals, we launched a Cultural Affairs committee in 2005, who early on helped us recognize the need to promote and encourage the creation of arts in Joplin.

Art in Public Places, the committee’s signature program, commissions and funds large-scale public art installations that are intended to enhance quality of life for the people in our community. Projects are open to the public, designed to be enjoyed communitywide, and showcase our area’s cultural history and proud heritage.

Finding funding for public arts projects hasn’t always been the easiest of tasks. Our dedicated group of Cultural Affairs committee members, however, was determined from the beginning to creatively raise all the funds needed to pay for what would later become the first of several installations in our community.

After some brainstorming, volunteers came up with a new idea for a chamber-supported event called Dancing with the Joplin Stars. The inaugural competition, hosted in 2010, brought the community together for dinner, dancing, and an entertaining evening of friendly competition.

Six local celebrities – TV personalities, prominent art supporters, community business leaders, the chief of police, and the Chamber President and CEO, Rob O’Brian – participated in fundraising efforts, committing to three months of rehearsal with a professional partner and agreeing to learn two dance routines: a waltz and a dance of their choice. Internationally known dance champions Sloane Hansen and Bernadette Carmichael joined our efforts and assisted with dance routines.

A selection of chamber members was invited to judge the competition and to present two awards: Judges’ Choice and the Peoples’ Choice. Here’s where the fundraising kicked into high gear. To help raise funds for Dancing with the Joplin Stars, celebrity dancers sold votes leading up to, and throughout, the event. The dance duo with the highest number of purchased votes received the coveted Peoples’ Choice Award.

The first year’s event was a tremendous success. With funds raised from Dancing with the Joplin Stars, the Cultural Affairs committee was able to pay for the first public art project. Anthony Benton Gude, grandson of Missouri muralist Thomas Hart Benton, was commissioned to create a piece of art that would accompany a mural in Joplin City Hall created by his grandfather. The artist was asked to capture Joplin in the mid-20th century, which led to the creation of Gude’s mural, titled “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri.” The mural depicts the strong cultural ties that Joplin had to Route 66 and hangs alongside Benton’s mural of early Joplin. Route 66, Joplin, Missouri was dedicated April 2010.

With the overwhelming success of the inaugural fundraising event and the subsequent installation of the Route 66 mural, the seed was planted for future community art projects. Dancing with the Joplin Stars became something the community looked forward to each year.

Following the Route 66 mural, the second public art project brought muralist Dave Loewenstein to Joplin for a community-centered installation. Loewenstein gathered input from community groups and used that collaborative inspiration to begin designing a mural that would live on a highly-visible Main Street building.

Loewenstein’s focus, however, drastically changed when an EF5 tornado struck Joplin on May 22, 2011. Following the disaster, the artist met with more than 20 community groups – many of which were comprised of children from Joplin – to record people’s impressions and images of Joplin on the day of the tornado. The result – titled The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight, which is inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem titled In Time of Silver Rain – was dedicated in September 2011 and today is one of the most colorful and impactful pieces of public art in the Missouri town.

Inspired by Loewenstein’s work, the people of Joplin were perhaps now more motivated than ever before to support public art in their community.

For the Cultural Affairs committee’s third public art project, the group of volunteers wanted to give a nod to Joplin’s long, rich history of performing arts, which dates back to before the turn of the 20th century. The Shubert and Club theatres showcased major performers of the day along with vaudeville and musical performances, while the Fox Theatre was one of the grandest movie houses west of the Mississippi River. Still to this day, the community is home to the longest continually-operating community theatre, Joplin’s Little Theatre. To recognize its storied performing arts past, the committee commissioned Garin Baker, a nationally-known artist, to create a new outdoor mural. Dedicated in May 2014, the mural is titled Celebrating the Performing Arts of Joplin and serves as a beautiful representation of the community’s past, present, and future for arts of all varieties.

Although successful, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and board of directors and committee members recognized the need to keep things fresh. In 2015 the organization hosted the grand finale of Dancing with the Joplin Stars. The “all-star” event brought together 10 former dancers, winners, and audience favorites for one final performance, which raised more than $26,000 for the Art in Public Places program. With this final infusion of support, the Cultural Affairs committee was able to move forward with a long-desired Sculpture in the Park project. Local artist Karl Lipscomb was chosen and is currently in the process of creating the sculpture. As with every other public art project, Lipscomb’s sculpture is for all to enjoy and adds to the beautification and enhancement of our wonderful town of Joplin, Missouri.

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